For a film cameo from Esther Williams look thisaway…
A star lookalike, Stretch Barnes is asked to stand in for Smoky Callaway, a cowboy star on the wee screen.
Callaway Went Thataway Original Trailer, Вайнах Лига
Before he joined the Dallas (1978-91) cast as Clayton Farlow, all I knew about singing and acting star Howard Keel’s (much) earlier work in film was his turns in musicals. There he’d sing and dance with the likes of Doris Day in Calamity Jane (1953). After reading about this film, where he has a double role, I thought I’d give it a whirl. He (sadly) only sings a couple of times in this film and kind of shuffles on the dance floor with co-star Dorothy McGuire. But I figured two Howard Keels is better than one unless the double is Clayton’s long lost twin brother and you are JR Ewing.
So I watched Callaway Went Thataway (1951) or as it is alternatively known, The Star Said No. Here Keel stars with Fred McMurray (who I last watched playing a total cad in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960)) and McGuire (who was Troy Donahue’s on-screen mother who rekindled a love affair in A Summer Place (1959), while her son copped off with her lover’s daughter). Callaway Went Thataway has a number of uncredited cameos but being the meanie that I am, I’m only going to mention a few in this review… and more can be found watching this film.
The black and white film starts with a scene in a Western, where Smoky Callaway (Keel) is the leading man. In this character he saves a damsel in distress, then – as the writers make the most of having Keel in the role – he sings to her while riding a piebald horse. It then appears this all-American, inspiring actor is a kiddy favourite and that he gets shed lots of mail from his young fans.
The trouble is, the show is a repeat and the actor has disappeared since it aired ten years ago. Two publicists Debbie Patterson (McGuire) and Mike Frye (MacMurray) are asked to find Callaway for a new Hollywood contract and for him to meet with the Hollywood board. They try and then fail to find him, so they send Callaway’s agent Georgie (Jesse White) to find him as he knows all his old haunts. Georgie tells them, that the last time he saw Callaway was many years ago, and he was then a forgotten actor and had a drinking problem.
The publicists then find a letter from Stretch Barnes (Keel), who sends his photo and complains about his problem.. he looks like the double of this actor. The publicists then go out to meet him, and although he’s the spitting image of Callaway, he couldn’t be more different. He can’t ride a horse, and he’s a gentle soul. The publicists then convince him that Callaway is dead and that they need him to stand in for this actor, as the news of Callaway’s death would devastate his fan base as he is an inspiration to kids everywhere.
Stretch signs the contract and then he’s taken to Hollywood. On the way, he is given all Smoky’s biographical details. In the Hollywood hotel lobby, two wee kids ask for his autograph. They then ask Esther to come and meet him, as she knows Callaway. Cue Esther Williams’ cameo as herself, needless to say, the country boy, Stretch doesn’t know who she is.
This then means that he needs a crash course in who’s who in Hollywood, Cue a fun montage doing just that before the three meet with Lorrison, the head of the board (Fay Roope) and his wife (Natalie Shafer). As they show him photos of a shed load of Hollywood big names, the only actor Stretch recognises – from this succession of photos – is Van Johnson. After they go to the club to meet the Lorrisons, the trio meets Elizabeth Taylor and Clark Gable – both playing themselves – and is curt with a forlorn looking Elizabeth Taylor and gets Gable’s first name wrong.
Stretch manages to convince Lorrison and in time the film crews and Americans that he’s Callaway. This is after he goes on tour to various American towns with Debbie. This tour leads to a proclamation of love… However, back in Hollywood, Frye’s got double trouble as the real Callaway has returned, after being found by Georgie. Callaway was drunk and propping up a bar in Mexico chatting up a girl… and how these events come to be and what happens next are found in the usual ways.
I really adored this film, and I did love that it came with a few fun twists to the doppelganger plot. As the doppelganger, there were some nice original touches to this part of the storyline. It appeared Stretch had an inch bigger shoulders than his celebrity lookalike and his clothes had to be altered for this small difference. Also, as Stretch signed an autograph for some young fans, he asked Debbie how many Ls were in Callaway.
It was fun seeing the contrasting Howard Keel characters when the real Callaway turned up later in the movie. This inevitably caused complications of all sorts. Keel was credible in both roles and convinced me as the gentle soft-spoken and sincere, Stretch Barnes and as his doppelganger, the loud, obnoxious and womanising Smoky Callaway. It’s just a shame they didn’t add more comic or drunken moments to his Dallas character, as he plays a fine drunk and a fun comic actor.
As Callaway, I loved the initial introduction to this character at the start of the film. At first, you believe you are first watching a Western film. Then a musical Western as Keel bursts into song and then it’s all revealed as a TV Show. Keel played Callaway fantastically and I loved the lengths this character went to to get an alcoholic drink, in scenes when the real Callaway has to dry out at a Health farm.
As Stretch, Keel had a lovely burgeoning romantic chemistry with McGuire. But I’m not telling you the identity of the guy who got this gal at the end of the movie. Keel played this character quite innocent and sweetly, and his shyness reminded me of Rex Stetson (aka Brad Allen (both Rock Hudson), in another Doris Day film, Pillow Talk (1959). The scenes with both Callaway and Stretch were beautifully choreographed and more believable that there were two Keels on the same scene than some later films with actors in dual roles.
I loved the apt and innovative use of montages, which have inspired more than a few doppelganger plots. It was lovely watching a split screen once again, this time in a more appropriate way than the split screen overkill in Airport (1970). MacMurray seemed convincing as Fry as the more money-minded of the two publicists. So I was quite happy as to how the film ended in relation to his character. McGuire in contrast, had a lovely fun montage with Stretch as he explored San Francisco as he goes on tour in his Callaway character. She had a lovely on-screen chemistry with Keel in his Stretch role.
I was a bit sad that Esther Williams only had a small scene with Keel, her co-star in Pagan Love Song (1950) and Texas Carnival (1951) and later in Jupiter’s Darling (1955). If you are keen to see her part alone it’s at about 28 minutes into this short and sweet 1 hour and 13 minutes of story. I felt with this short running time, could they not have added more to her – and other’s cameos?
Esther Williams could have been used throughout this film and the comic possibilities for her role are endless. As the kids say she knows Callaway, could we not have had her pursuing this man she thinks is Callyway, as for example he is her ex-fiance that jilted her at the altar?
This could be in a crazy way like Carrie Fisher’s character known as Mystery Woman in The Blues Brothers (1980). This she appears at times throughout the film and tries unsuccessfully to kill Callaway for leaving her. Or she could query why he wears his trousers to the wrong side now (as the doppelganger was discovered in Dave (1993)).. or signs his autograph with a different hand… ??
Or Williams could fall madly in love with MacMurray’s character and then discover the secret about Callaway. This could be the stuff of romcoms, and also satirised – like the original film – with a boy meets girl, girl meets boy, girl breaks up with boy for reason (ie she finds out about the ruse).. then they make up at end of the movie (as find out the ruse was engineered it to make kids happy)…
That forlorn look from Elizabeth Taylor could have been used in a storyline, and create her a role as another spurned fiance of Callaway’s. As for Clark Gable, he could feel affronted his friend doesn’t frankly, give a damn about him anymore. If these three cameos had had more screen time, these would have added much more comic moments to their delightful additions to this film.
As a Dallas fan who loves doppelganger storylines, this previously undiscovered film was like all my Christmases had come at once. But it’s also a film to watch to spot those golden, Golden Hollywood cameos. So remember to keep your eyes peeled for Esther Williams – and more – who make a splash as they dive in with both feet into the film…
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
100 years of Esther Williams Blogathon 2021, No 22
This review was added to Love Letters to Old Hollywood’s 100 Years of Esther Williams Blogathon. Fay Roope stars in The Twilight Zone and Jesse White in The Love Boat., Fred MacMurray stars in The Swarm and The Apartment. Dorothy McGuire stars in A Summer Place, Glitter, Hotel, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Howard Keel starred in Hart to Hart, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat and of course Dallas.